It consists of four interviews with Einstein by Dr. Hermanns, who was initially Einstein's fellow Berliner and then his fellow exile. Hermanns is a sociologist and poet, who has strong mystical leanings and little understanding of physics. The first interview takes place in Berlin as the Nazis are gaining strength and becomes entwined with marching Brownshirts. It is both a wonderfully and terrifyingly bizarre piece, and it would make a striking movie or perhaps play.
The next three interviews take place in the United States during and after the war. Although lacking the drama of the first, they are equally informative. Hermanns continually goads Einstein to talk about things that he is not comfortable talking about, such as mysticism, and then pokes fun at his own obtuseness for continuing to press him. Nonetheless Einstein reveals a great deal to him. The interviews contain a treasure trove of information about Einstein's understanding of intuition. I thought I had the intuition bug, Einstein had it even worse!
Intuition can take many different forms. I identified deeply with a portion of what Einstein said about it. "Yes that's what it's like for me," I found myself saying with wonderment and even delight at the recognition. This kinship to some of what Einstein evoked no doubt comes from the fact that we share a personality type.
After I finished the book, I copied down some quotes I found particularly moving or informative. By putting them one after the other and pondering them a bit I came to see that they formed a coherent, profound, and provocative worldview.
Intuition for Einstein—be it about cosmic law or about predicting the outcome of the Second World War—is intimately connected with feeling. Many associate both feeling and intuition with the gut. But for Einstein, intuition is grounded primarily in the feeling of the heart—in its receptivity and its tendency to move out. It depends on a deep caring and receptivity that pushes him to go beyond what is currently known or thought or happening in order make contact with the cosmic order.
The following passage comes when Einstein and Herrmanns are talking about the Nazis and the flaw in the German national character that lead to Hitler's appeal.
Einstein nodded: he was a good listener. After a pause he said, "The cosmic man must be restored, the whole man who is made in the image and likeness of the arch-force, which you may call God. This man thinks with his heart and not with party dogma. As I've explained before, there is an order in the universe – a cosmic order – and humans have the possibility of understanding these laws."
Einstein leaned back in his chair; so did I,putting my writing pad on my knees. He added, "I have no doubt that the allies will win the war."
I smiled, "Oh, you are my prophet again."
"Prophet or not," he scratched his head, "what I say is more often felt through intuition than thought through intellect."
Hermanns is constantly pushing Einstein to acknowledge his inherent mysticism. He succeeds in getting Einstein to say something that probably few scientists today would say—that there is a vital force or energy in creation. Einstein is willing to associate energy with what are generally seen as spiritual concepts.
I pulled out some notes. "Once, in England, I was at dinner with people highly trained in meditation, among them Professor Suzuki who asked me to ask you if spiritual vibrations and electricity have the same original cause or force."
"I believe," Einstein answered, "that energy is the basic force in creation. My friend Bergson calls it élan vital, the Hindus call it prana."
This acknowledgment of at least certain types of energy that cannot, or not yet, be measured by instruments is noteworthy but it is perhaps not completely surprising. Einstein was responsible for showing us that matter and energy are interchangeable. He understood empiricism to be only a tool of intuition. Finally like Spinoza, he saw God, the universe, and all of life as a harmonious whole.
Einstein looked through the window and seemed to mumble more to the trees than to me, "I believe that I have cosmic religious feelings. I never could grasp how one could satisfy these feelings by praying to limited objects. The tree outside is life, a statue is dead. The whole of nature is life, and life, as I observe it, rejects a God resembling man. I like to experience the universe as one harmonious whole. Every cell has life."
He turned to me and smiled, "Matter, too, has life: it is energy solidified. Our bodies are like prisons, and I look forward to be free, but I don't speculate on what will happen to me. I live here , and my responsibility is in this world now..."
Experiencing the universe as a harmonious whole, there is no reason to fear either life or death. True religion depends only on holding the world in a receptive, caring, and judicious way—on conscience. This opens the door to intuition, which allows at least Einstein to glimpse the law conformability of the universe (and the rest of us too, although no doubt somewhat more dimly).
"The truly religious man has no fear of life and no fear of death—and certainly no blind faith: his faith must be in his conscience. Then he will have the intuition to observe and judge what happens around him. Then, he can acknowledge that everything unfolds true to strict natural law, sometimes with tremendous speed."
As a part of the cosmic order, certainly Einstein, and perhaps all of us, have a purpose which we can recognize with our intuition. Since our instructions or purpose comes from this harmonious whole, we are participating in eternity in the present.
"Indeed, it is not intellect, [which means book knowledge and empiricism for him], but intuition which advances humanity. Intuition tells man his real purpose in this life... I do not need any promise of eternity to be happy… my eternity is now. I have only one interest: to fill my purpose here where I am. This purpose is not given to me by my parents or my surroundings. It is induced by some unknown factors. These factors make me part of eternity. In this sense I am a mystic...”
As an inherent part of this totality, we are much larger than we usually experience. Einstein's religion, like Spinoza's, is that the universe is rational. The highest calling is to ponder its laws. Our usual ways of knowing are crude and cannot comprehend the coherence and beauty of the universe. Only the heart with its intuition can lead us beyond what we know of the universe and of ourselves.
Einstein leaned forward, "… it is not a religion that teaches that man is made in the image of God—that is anthropomorphic. Man has infinite dimensions and finds God in his conscience. This religion has no dogma other than teaching man that the universe is rational and that its highest destiny is to ponder it and co-create with its laws. There are only two limiting factors: first, that what seems impenetrable to us is as important as what is cut and dried; and: second that our faculties are dull and can only comprehend wisdom and
serene beauty in crude forms, but the heart of man through intuition leads
us to greater understanding of ourselves and the universe."
Although intuition is what allows us to move forward—is the most important part of thinking—it alone is not enough. Knowledge also has its place, but intuition is the gatekeeper at the most critical juncture. Even though the workings of intuition remain mysterious, it is a reality.
"Isn't truth inherent in man?" I interjected. "You once told me that progress is made only by intuition, and not by the accumulation of knowledge."
"It's not as simple as that," replied Einstein. "Knowledge is necessary, too. An intuitive child couldn't accomplish anything without some knowledge. There will come a point in everyone's life, however where only intuition can make the leap ahead, without ever knowing precisely how. One can never know why but one must accept intuition as a fact."